The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework. A Solution to the Conflicts of the 21st Century?

Term Paper 2014 19 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Environmental Policy




Climate Crisis and Development Crisis as the central challenges of the 21st century

Human Development and Saving the Planet: A Contradiction?

Burdensharing: A Question of Capacity and Responsibility

RCI as a Measure of Distribution

The GDRF- A Manifesto for global Climate Justice


The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework

A Solution to the conflicts of the 21st century?


The present paper argues in favor of the “Greenhouse Development Right Framework” by Paul Bear and Tom Athanastou as an answer to the conflict between the right to develop and the emergent climate crisis. The best opportunity to solve both is to make the Right to Development a central element of a new emergency climate program. The GDRF is designed to protect the Right to sustainable Human Development, even as it drives extremely rapid global emissions reductions. To avoid a dangerous global warming of more than 2 C°, it is not enough that only the developed countries cut their emissions, but also the countries of the South must make a substantial contribution. But from the wealthy and emission intensive countries a high reduction is demanded, so that the countries of the South can give priority to their sustainable development.

Climate Crisis and Development Crisis as the central challenges of the 21st century

The changing climate is of significant importance in a world of inequality and poverty. In the midst of the crisis in which more than one-third of the world’s people are poor, hungry, have no access to clean water, basic health care or education, the climate crisis as well has to be faced with emergency and urgency since both are linked very closely.[1] Climate change is mainly caused by human (anthropogenic), so that he is ethically considered not to be classified as fate, but more as a matter of justice. It´s dimensions are so huge that they overlap all development processes. Justice and peace in the 21st century cannot be realized without a just and comprehensive climate protection. This dependence applies reciprocally: We can only hope for a global cooperation on climate change, when the poor majority gets equitable opportunities for decent evolution. Climate policy cooperation today is the prerequisite and component of the preventive peace policy.[2]

However in all of this there is a deep conflict between climate change and the fight against poverty. The known and affordable models of economic development all largely base on the access to fossil energy.[3] Most of the developing and emerging countries aspire to overcome poverty and securing prosperity through energy-intensive industrialization, as the rich North was living it. There is, however, in the atmosphere no more space for the CO2 that the developing world would emit, if they want the same level of development as the industrialized nations: “The world’s wealthy majority has left precious little atmospheric space for the poor majority.“[4]

Already in 2007 on a conference of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Bali, where the participants agreed on a post 2012 agreement, the negotiations were divided into two major strands. The first consisting of industrialized countries that had ratified the Kyoto Protocol were discussing how the new agreement will make far deeper cuts in their emissions. The second negotiating strand was taking place more broadly and involved all 192 signatory countries, including the US, and is addressing how cuts in emissions can be extended beyond the industrialized world and into India and China and other rapidly developing countries.[5] Anyway there was a very important and at the same time dangerous impasse in the international climate change talks since the development opportunities of poor people are at the heart of this. Until negotiations address how they can escape poverty without adding further CO2 to the climate, it is difficult to imagine how poorer nations can be willing to sign any new agreement.[6]

Greenhouse Development Rights Framework (GDRF) aims to solve this mentioned impasse, because it addresses the development crisis as well as the climate crisis. The framework established by Paul Baer and Tom Athanastou is designed to protect the right to sustainable human development even as it drives extremely rapid global emissions reductions.[7] The GDRF follows a very pragmatic approach: Starting with the logic of the self-made climate impass it states that the right to development is not only ethically justifiable, “but also, fundamentally, a non-negotiable foundation of greenhouse-age geopolitical realism.”[8] It is the main assumption of the framework, that developing countries won´t sign any climate change regime unless the right to sustainable development is explicitly preserves, because they could conclude that they have more to lose than to gain from any truly earnest engagement with a global climate regime that, after all, “significantly curtails access to the energy sources and technologies that historically enabled growth in the industrialized world.”[9]

Even when its procedures and calculations are complicated to understand, the principles behind the framework are simple and drafted to address the politics of the current impasse by revisiting the original text of the UNFCCC. GDRF is a mean to share the global burden to avoid climate catastrophe in a way that is fair and it works according to principles of equity – “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”[10] This principle, even if it is often used as rhetorical phrases by politicians, it can according to the GDRF easily be quantified and used to illustrated the effective and fair burden and responsibility sharing.[11] This effort will be the difference between the possible future emissions if no actions is taken to mitigate and no agreement signed and what can be emitted if humanity is to keep global warming below levels of irreversible changes.[12] In a world of poverty and inequality, which is at the same time also facing a climate catastrophe, a fair, equity and comprehensive international agreement to deal with the threat. The GDRF is a demonstrably framework to solve the crises of climate and development.

Human Development and Saving the Planet: A Contradiction?

Everyday we get more anxious and aware of the risks and consequences of the climate catastrophe, but most of the people in our world have to deal with another and even more pressing and current crises: poverty and underdevelopment. In order to outline the connection between the development crisis and the climate crisis a few aspects need to be mentioned. First of all there is no path for a development which is not based on the access to energy services.[13]

The way our economies are nowadays structured and how our daily energy technologies work, the CO2 emissions will increase constantly and this is in turn incompatible with a precautionary climate policy.[14] The result is, that there is simply not enough “environmental space” for the still-poor to develop in the same way like the global North has already did: “The 15 percent of the world’s population that lives today in the roughly 40 high-income countries uses about half the world’s energy, produces about half the world’s CO2 and consumes about half the world’s goods and services. Further, the world’s wealthy, as they developed into this current resource-intensive state, consumed so great a fraction of the carbon budget that, today, we are faced with the grim task of allocating an entirely inadequate remainder.”[15] This leads us to our current dilemma: If we want to stick to the budget and the border of 2C° the global emissions have to precipitously decline. But if the poor majority’s energy usage reaches even half the level of the wealthy minority, then the global CO2 emissions would double: “And herein lies the essential tension between the aspirations of the world’s poor – and even the minimal demands of basic human development – and, on the other side, the climate challenge. Any climate regime that ignores it is doomed to failure.”[16] Fundamental in the conflict between climate change and overcoming poverty is the recognition of the right to development:

"While people remain poor, it is unacceptable and unrealistic to expect them to focus their valuable resources on the climate change crisis."[17] For the majority of developing countries a global climate regime is acceptable only if at the same time a right to development is recognized and the satisfaction of fundamental human needs (basic needs) and the liberation of deprivation and vulnerability. Since the especially less technically equipped countries at least in the coming decades will need the access to fossil energy and thus CO2 in order to realize their development opportunities, it is the result that they are accorded more rights or at least that not the same percentage reduction obligations as from industrialized nations can be demanded. The right to development is not bounded to economic growth, but a Right for the preconditions for the development of a life in dignity and social Solidarity to prevent and overcome extreme emergencies. Below a certain level of development people must have the opportunity to take care about their own development without the burdens of fighting climate change.[18]

The right to development in the context of climate change can be justified with the human rights.[19] Based on the justice discourse we can calculate the criteria of demand, opportunities and procedural justice.[20]. The criteria of demand says, that the satisfaction of basic human needs has an ethical priority. Justice of chances can be concretized in investing in people to strengthen their capacity to act, so that they can better master the risks caused by climate change. Procedural justice is to seek above all by improving the institutional conditions for climate protection and participation opportunities. The protection of the right to development requires a framework agreement for Greenhouse Development Rights, which allows a fair burden-sharing and investment in global climate protection. Not just the fair distribution of emission rights but also the fair distribution of physical, human, natural and social capital have to be considered, since all these factors have the ability of reducing poverty and adapt to climate change.[21]

However, it is the reality that countries on the side of the global wealth have to reduce their emissions, because it is not enough for those countries to cut their emissions.[22] Figure 1 illustrates the developing world’s dilemma.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Emission development; Source: Christian Aid (2009): Greenhouse Development Rights, p.4.

The red curve is the emergency programme and the blue one illustrates what the industrialized countries have to do for a decarbonisation until 2050. The green curve shows the remaining “atmospheric space” left for the developing states (red curve minus the blue curve). This shows that the developing countries of the global South have to begin with the process of decarbonisation before they’ve completed the process of development.[23] The core of the climate-development dilemma is that “under a global emergency pathway, carbon constraints would be so tight that, in the absence of explicit efforts to enable low-emissions development, the poor would be badly squeezed. In effect, they would lose their right to development. More precisely, the emergency pathway would be seen as requiring development to be deferred, so that limited resources could be invested instead in mitigation, and in consequence it would be resisted.”[24]

As an answer to both crises and especially to produce a climate stabilization program, this regime has to go further than just focusing on the climate issue, because it also needs to embrace the right to sustainable human development.[25] It has to be declared and pursed with sincereness because any other framework is doomed to fail.

Regarding this, it has to be noted that human development and not economic growth itself is in the focus. Human development will therefore be defined as “as the satisfaction of fundamental needs in a manner that frees people from the vulnerability and deprivation of poverty and makes possible a decent level of security and well-being.”[26]

Baer mentions the central challenges concerning the main claim to ensure human development in a way that links it with an emergency drive of rapidly decarbonization: There is a so called political imperative to embrace and strength human development, since the South, with warranted ethical and political reasons, will insists that a human development will be their priority and not the climate crisis. Even when there is evidence, that the upcoming climate catastrophe will cause immense local damages, especially in the unprepared global South, it does not make the mitigation to the first priority to the negotiators of the South.[27].

The Greenhouse Development Rights approach by Baer is not an appeal to the morality, its basis is more a realist point of view. The framework can be able to break the impasse and rise to the demands of the climate crisis for two reasons: “The North cannot stabilize the climate without the full commitment of the South, and the South cannot make that commitment if doing so would threaten to undermine its development. In practice, this means that a global alliance to stabilize the climate can only arise, and survive, on terms that honor the poor world’s right to development. The wealthy countries must not only cut their own emissions, deeply and soon, but also do whatever is necessary to help the poor leapfrog into a low-emissions, high-adaptation future.”[28]


[1] Christian Aid (2009): Greenhouse Development Rights, Online available: <klima-sos.dk/onewbmedia/ GDR_made_easy.pdf>, (last access: 11.09.2014), p. 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ostheimer, Joachim ./Vogt, Marcus (2008): Energie für die Armen. Klimawandel und Armutsbekämpfung, in: Amos international, No. 1/2008, p. 10-13.

[4] Vogt, Markus (2008): Gerechtigkeit im Klimaschutz. Ethische Analysen zur gemeinsamen, aber unterschiedlichen Verantwortung von Industrie- und Entwicklungsländern, Conference „Globalisierung und Gerechtigkeit“, Online available: <http://www.kaththeol.uni-muenchen.de/lehrstuehle/ christl_sozialethik/personen/1vogt/texte_vogt/klimagerechtigkeit.pdf<, (last access: 13.09.2014).

[5] United Nations (2007): Report of the Conference of the Parties on its thirteenth session held in Bali from 3 to 15 December 2007, FCCC/CP/2007/6/Add.1, Online Available: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2007/cop13/eng/06a01.pdf >, (last access: 13.09.2014).

[6] Christian Aid (2009): Greenhouse Development Rights, p. 2.

[7] Kartha, Sivan et. al. (2010): The right to development in a climate constrained world. The Greenhouse Development Rights framework, in: Voss, Martin (Hrsg.): Der Klimawandel. Sozialwissenschaftliche Perspektiven, Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, p. 205.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. p. 206.

[10] United Nations (1992): United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Online available: <http://unfccc.int/key_documents/the_convention/items/283.php>, (last access: 12.09.2014), Article 3.

[11] Christian Aid (2009): Greenhouse Development Rights, p. 2.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Baer, Paul / Athanasiou, Tom (2008): The Right to Development in a Climate Constrained World. The Greenhouse Delevopment Rights Framework, Published by Heinrich Böll Foundation, Christian Aid, EcoEquity and the Stockholm Environment Institute Online available: <www.ecoequity.org/docs/TheGDRsFramework.pdf>, (last access: 02.09.2014), p. 23.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Vogt (2008): Gerechtigkeit im Klimaschutz, p.8.

[18] Ibid. p. 9.

[19] Santarius, Tilman (2007): Klimawandel und globale Gerechtigkeit, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, No. 24, p. 19.

[20] Vogt (2008): Gerechtigkeit im Klimaschutz, p.8.

[21] Wallacher, Johannes / Reder, Michael: Klimaverhandlungen brauchen ein ethisches Leitbild, in: Weltsichten, No. 5, p. 11-13.

[22] Christian Aid (2009): Greenhouse Development Rights, p. 4.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Baer (2008): The Right to Development in a Climate Constrained World. p. 24.

[25] Baer (2008): The Right to Development in a Climate Constrained World. p. 24.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid. p. 25.

[28] Santarius, Tilman (2008): Deutschlands Vorreiterrolle auf dem Prüfstand. Wie schützen wir die Menschenrechte im Treibhaus?, Wuppertal: Wuppertal Institut für Klima, Umwelt und Energie, p. 12.


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University of Frankfurt (Main) – Politikwissenschaft
Climate; Greenhouse



Title: The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework. A Solution to the Conflicts of the 21st Century?